Pressure from some larger City firms has brought forward the review of the Legal Practice Course. The results of the review, which has just started, will be implemented in the LPC starting in September 1997.
The LPC was introduced in September 1993. It represents change (and was deliberately designed to do so) and some of these changes have not always proved welcome.
Some of the pressures giving rise to the demands for an early review are the predictable result of any new course.
For instance, the LPC shifts the emphasis towards skills training, and some in the profession believe this has reduced the emphasis on substantive law, to the disadvantage of students.
The shift from a centrally set exam to a system of examinations set by local providers (and supervised by the LPC Board assessors) has moved us from a rigidly uniform market to a diverse one. This has led to concerns about significant variations in the standards of teaching and assessment.
How far these worries are justified can be gauged to some extent by results of two recent surveys of the success of the LPC, conducted by the College of Law and Nottingham Law School. The findings broadly agree that the LPC appears to be a considerable improvement on the Law Society Finals in equipping trainees for practice.
In addition a majority of supervisors are satisfied with the level of knowledge acquired by trainees on the LPC in the compulsory, pervasive and optional subjects.
A large majority of supervisors rank trainees as competent or very competent in what are seen as the most important skills, namely writing/drafting and legal research.
However, there is little opportunity to use negotiation, interviewing and advocacy skills during the training contract.
There is little consensus on the overall benefits of the LPC, although a significant number of supervisors see LPC trainees as more independent and commercially aware.
In addition, trainees and supervisors would like the LPC to be more directed to their chosen area of practice.
There are anecdotal views from the large City firms that the LPC is intellectually undemanding. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they see significant parts of the compulsory subjects (particularly wills, probate and administration) as irrelevant to City practice.
There is also some concern that optional subjects have been marginalised in the teaching of the LPC in favour of the core and many believe that those options are the most valuable part of the course.
It was in the light of these views that Allen & Overy asked the Law Society to allow it to run an in-house version of the LPC for its students. This has been shelved pending the outcome of the LPC review.
But despite these concerns and objections, we must not lose sight of the overall conclusions of the surveys.
The current review exercise is therefore a review of the LPC's operation rather than a root-and-branch reassessment of vocational training.
The review has three stages. First is a consultation questionnaire for LPC providers, practitioners and trainees which can be obtained from Howard Bell at the Law Society's LPC Unit at Redditch. The closing date to return these is 14 June.
Then an LPC review group will sift through the results of the questionnaires over the summer and produce recommendations for changes which will go before the LPC Board in autumn.
The board will decide what it wants to do and put recommendations to the training committee before the end of the year, so the written LPC standards can be revised (if necessary) and LPC providers can go through a revalidation process in time for September 1997.
It is important for those applying for LPCs starting in September 1997 to realise that the nature of the LPC they are applying for will not be set in stone or perhaps even be very clear until early spring of 1997. This will be well after their applications have been submitted and accepted.
It may be that changes to the LPC brought about by this review are limited, and therefore all this is of marginal concern. Certainly more radical changes may make the present timetable ambitious.
One other point of note: the LPC is the beginning of a new training process for those who intend to qualify as solicitors. It is followed by the Professional Skills Course during the training contract. The PSC deliberately builds on the LPC and it is therefore a racing certainty that changes to the LPC starting in 1997 will bring about a need to review the PSC starting in September 1998.
This will mean more change for the profession not long after the new PSC regime has been introduced. But it also means 1997's LPC students will be another guinea pig intake.